LD 887: A bill that really “ought not to pass."

By Mike Reynolds for Ability Maine

Earlier this year, the revisors office in the Maine Legislature was publishing bills to be heard by this session of the legislature this year.  With over 1000 possible bills, bills are rolled out over several weeks.  This is the process that has been used for years. It is difficult to keep on top of all the bills that affect a certain population or interest, but usually people work with others to alert people of bills, and there is a good search option on the site of the Maine Legislature.

One bill that piqued my interest as a person with a disability who has dealt with chronic pain was a bill, sponsored by Sen. Anne Haskell and co-sponsored by several other legislators.  It would add  who use medical cannabis to control pain and have registered with the state, to the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). The problem is that there is no such thing as a marijuana prescription; it is against the law for any doctor to prescribe medical cannabis, but not against the law for a doctor to write a recommendation to use cannabis.

Senator Haskell, when reached earlier this year about the bill, stated that she submitted the bill for the Maine Medical Association. She further explained that the intent of the bill was to explained as a measure that would allow more doctors to write recommendations for cannabis. When I asked how that would affect in any way the fact that it was usually hospitals that had policies that have effectively prohibited doctors from writing recommendations, she basically just repeated that it would allow more doctors to write more recommendations. When asked why the current DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who formerly led the Maine Hospital Association, could not send out a letter to MHA for a change in policy, or when I discussed other very real privacy concerns, Haskell listened intently, but didn’t waiver in support of her bill.

LD 887 had a public hearing on April 25 and it was lackluster at best. Two other bills dealing with medical marijuana  as well as LD 887 were combined into one hearing, and unlike most bills, where supporters, opponents and those neither for or against the bills have clear times set, there was no real structure and the main lobbyist for MMA, Dr. Gordon Smith, was unable to attend that hearing.

The PMP is an absolutely necessary service to prevent the horrific issue of prescription drug abuse that is an epidemic in Maine. But the state instituted a mandatory registry for marijuana users in clear violation of voter intent in 2008, (which is being addressed in another bill, which would make registration voluntary.) Additionally, only somewhere around 40% of doctors currently use the PMP.  According to the Government Accounting Office nationally, “Prescription drug monitoring programs may vary in ways such as what data must be submitted and who has access to the information. For example, with respect to access to prescription monitoring data, West Virginia allows authorized agents of the state police and federal law enforcement agencies to have access to prescription monitoring data. In contrast, in Maine, access by law enforcement is more limited as law enforcement officials can access prescription monitoring data only by grand jury subpoena for cases they are currently investigating.” Without any national standard, and the very real fact that doctors in Maine can refuse to treat a patient for any reason, including for having a medical recommendation for Cannabis, it’s certainly not in the state’s interest to add Cannabis recommendations to a monitoring program for prescriptions whose focus is primarily on drugs that have a high risk of abuse or addiction.

On May 2nd a worksession was held, which was delayed and the testimony I heard was incomplete. Dr. Gordon Smith, stated that a doctor needed to verify if a patient has a medical marijuana recommendation as patients could lie and not tell their doctor. That might be very true but many people who have ongoing chronic pain issues should not be forced to be on another database because of the possibility of “lying” to their doctor. If anything, as it was testified at the public hearing, by Dr. Dustin Sulak, Cannabis actually reduces the use of opiates. Alysia Melnick, a lawyer for the MCLU, was adamant that the last thing patients needed was to be on another list with their medical information available. The DHHS subcommittee voted 7-5 “ought not to pass” with even co-sponsors voting against the bill. Further votes may be forthcoming, as the legislators who voted in the minority are Senators who suggested they may bring it to the floor for a possible vote.